When considering an examination of classic rock and roll albums, one must take into account the primary listening medium that was used at the time. The LP (long player) format was the most used for many years. Beginning roughly in the late 1880’s, phonographic discs (made from shellac and later polyvinyl chloride) were used to transmit recorded music.
In the late 20th century, other mediums began to supplant vinyl (as it came to be called). Cassettes, digital audio tapes, CDs and eventually streaming services, became cheaper and more popular. However, vinyl has always retained a devoted following among those who value sound quality. Many audiophiles believe that music heard from vinyl, is richer, warmer and more accurately captures the essence of the original recording.
Smith Library has a robust collection of vinyl LPs, covering many different genres including opera, classical, folk, country, easy listening, pop and rock. This week’s blog post will cover some of the classic rock albums that are available at Smith Library. Each entry will include a brief overview of the work, its relative merits in the genre and the location information in Smith Library. The albums are listed in order of release date.
Released Jan. 1967
The Doors first album, The Doors, came during a time when groups like the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones continued their domination of the music charts as well as the appreciation of the critics. The Doors joined new groups such The Velvet Underground and Jethro Tull in introducing new and fresh sounds to rock music. From the straight ahead rock of “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” to the hypnotic and eerie “The End”, the album presents a diverse set of songs that nonetheless maintains a cohesive sound. This album also contains the song that propelled the Doors to superstardom, “Light My Fire”. The Doors reflected a new California sound, psychedelic but still featuring a driving rock feel.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Doors Elektra EKS74007
Released May 1969
Tommy is the Who’s fourth album and is credited as being the first rock opera. What’s a rock opera? In this case, it is the double album length story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid that “plays a mean pinball”. This was one of the most successful rock albums, commercially and critically, to emerge from the glory days of rock and roll. Supported by the singles, “Pinball Wizard” and “I’m Free”, the album sold enough to be turned into a movie. The album features many different music styles that are truly enhanced when listening to on vinyl.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Who Decca DXSW7205
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Released March 1970
When Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills and Nash, expectations were very high for the resulting album. Déjà vu fulfilled those expectations and then some. The group crafted folk-based soft rock highlighted by the complex harmonies provided by all four singers. And as each member was also a notable song writer, the selection of songs for the album resulted in a batch of unusually strong numbers. The album generated three Top 40 singles: “Woodstock”, “Teach Your Children”, and “Our House”.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Crosby D Atlantic SD7200
Released in April 1971
For all intents and purposes, this is the last album by the Doors (three subsequent albums feature guest vocalists or previously recorded vocals of Morrison). It is also one of their strongest. The album contains pure rock (“L.A. Woman”), pop (“Love Her Madly”), slow blues (“Cars Hiss by My Window”, “Crawling King Snake”), psychedelic drone (“L’America”), rehab rock (“Hyacinth House”), a weird Morrison song (“WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” and the long hypnotic drone of “Riders on the Storm”. Yet, the album flows effortlessly, presenting a unified whole and perhaps the most satisfying release in the Doors discography.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Doors Elektra EKS75011
Released in Feb. 1975
In 1975, Fleetwood Mac was a group that had already been around for eight years. Starting as a heavily blues-influenced band from England by 1974, the group had lost several members and went to California seeking a fresh infusion of talent. It was there that Mick Fleetwood met Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a songwriting/singing couple. Fleetwood offered the duo spots in the band and rest is history. Fleetwood Mac is the first album to reflect the new direction and became the foundation for their next album, the multi-platinum Rumors. Notable songs include “Rhiannon” and “Landslide,” both Stevie Nicks numbers.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Fleetw M Warner MS2225
Minstrel in The Gallery
Released in Sept. 1975
Jethro Tull, an English band led by Ian Anderson, can be an acquired taste. Heavy on orchestration, strings and, of course, Anderson’s ever-present flute, the band often comes across as overly theatric and a bit simplistic, lyrics-wise. The strength of the band is in the highly skilled musicianship of the players as well as the catchy song writing. This album does not contain any of Tull’s more well-known songs, but still provides a good overview of the band’s sound, especially when heard on vinyl.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Jethro T Chrysali CHR1082
Released in Oct. 1979
Tusk had a hard act to follow. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, sold millions of copies and was critically acclaimed. It can be argued that no album could have possibly met, let alone surpassed the expectations everyone had for the next album. And the reaction to Tusk was just about what one could expect. It is probably a better album than the initial reviews proclaimed, but still it was inferior to Rumors. Lindsey Buckingham basically took over the creative direction of the band and insisted on creating a double album that contained not only typical Fleetwood Mac fare but also some more experimental songs, influenced in part, by the burgeoning new wave/post punk scene. The result was an interesting double album that could probably have been an excellent single album, one that is still well worth a listen.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Fleetw M Warner 2HS3350
Released in Oct. 1983
After several religiously themed albums, Bob Dylan returned to more secular topics on Infidels. Produced by Dire Straits lead man, Mark Knopfler and assisted by Mick Taylor (ex-Rolling Stones) on guitar and Sly and Robbie (Dunbar and Shakespeare, from the Wailers) on bass and drums, Infidels sees Dylan’s sound become more polished and layered than recent efforts, and exploring more universal themes. The first song on the album is the incredibly powerful “Jokerman”. The lyrics are complex and the vocals weave effortlessly through the multiple storylines and scenarios:
“Standing on the waters casting your bread
While the eyes of the idol with the iron head are glowing
Distant ships sailing into the mist,
You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing
Freedom just around the corner for you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?”
While the album contains many quality songs, “Jokerman” is truly a standout. A must listen.
Location: Smith Library 1st Floor – Media Library – LP Collection / Dylan B Columbia QC38819
-Blog post by Bob Fitzgerald, Reference & Interlibrary Loan Librarian